Do we need to say this? Really?
An article went up on IndyVoices today that discussed feminists “dancing on the grave of NUTS magazine” and lamented that “by outlawing lads’ mags we risk turning women’s sex into a taboo.”
It’s not the only thing I’ve seen that wants to pit Feminism against Sex in some imaginary battle of opposites. I’ve seen some bloggers saying that sex positivity is being pushed in people’s faces and that there’s pressure on anyone who writes about feminism to be simultaneously politically angry and coquettishly sexual. This is often taken to mean that if one wants to be a proper feminist – you know, one of the one’s who is really serious about it rather than one of the ones who just wears feminism the way they’d accessorize with a lovely new scarf – then one has to avoid being sexual.
Pro-sex doesn’t mean pro-the current sexual norm
The reason the IndyVoices article is a steaming pile of horseshit is that it assumes there is only one kind of sexuality: the kind that’s packaged by publications such as NUTS magazine, page 3, and anything that involves a lady showing her cleavage to get one over on weak men who are hampered by erections.
To say that this is a narrow view of sexuality is to drastically undersell the problem. Of all possible sexual worlds, this is a very very small one in a multiverse teeming with infinite possibilities.
So, you can be against this particular portrayal of women and still be pro-sex.
Being a feminist does not mean ignoring male sexual pleasure
Some men like sex. Some women like sex. It is not inherently anti-feminist to be a woman who enjoys pleasuring men, just as it isn’t anti-feminist to be a woman who’d rather not do that, thank you very much.
If you want to sign up to be a feminist (I’ve got a clipboard and a list of names here somewhere – every sign-up gets a free “YAY FEMINISM” badge), you don’t have to push back against anything that might make an individual man happy. You just have to want men and women to be equal. That means Cosmo and Glamour articles on ‘how to please your man in bed’, the ones mentioned in the IndyVoices piece, are not necessarily ‘anti-feminist’.
I know, I am sticking up for Cosmo – shock. That is literally how bad things have got.
What is anti-feminist is when these articles frame their version of sexuality as the only possible one. If these magazines are the dominant things that shape the discourse, with no acknowledgement that – hey! People are basically all individuals and the chances are that our generic sex tips won’t work on everyone! And some people don’t actually want to have this kind of sex anyway! – that’s when things are fucked. The problem isn’t that these articles exist, the problem is that they tell us a very specific story about how we all should be.
So: wanting sexual pleasure – to give it and to get it – is not anti-feminist. What is anti-feminist is claiming that everyone must give it and get it in exactly the same way.
Anti-page-3 doesn’t necessarily mean anti-women
The No More Page 3 campaign has taken a lot of stick. But it has taken a lot of stick for a pretty good reason: it comes across as pretty anti-women. Like, really. Although they are fighting against sexual norms that paint women as interesting baubles for men to wank over (and I am totally down with smashing that), some of the campaign rhetoric involves making women feel bad for displaying their bodies, and that’s not cool.
Going back to point 1 – there are many different types of sexuality. And Page 3 caters to one very specific type. In my feminist, pro-sex Utopia, there will be things that cater to this type of sexuality: there will be women who earn money by getting their tits out for lads who wank to them, and no one will hate on any of the participants in this happy exchange. However, it will all be happening in an environment that is very different to the one we have now: an environment in which this type of sexuality is merely one among many, one which is not the dominant face of ‘sex’ as society understands it, and which no one feels pressured to participate in or look at if they don’t want to, because we will all accept that this is not the only way.
Feminism is about not telling women what they should be. Or what they should not be.
Pro-sex doesn’t mean pro-‘pushing your sexual desires onto other people’
This one’s the kicker, and it’s this view I’ve seen fairly frequently elsewhere. I’ve read articles and blogs by people I admire saying that they feel pressured to be overtly sexual in order to “keep up with the Joneses” of popular ‘sex-positive’ feminism. It’s the other side of the coin from the IndyVoices article.
In IV, the author claims that ‘feminists’ are in danger of turning ‘women’s sex’ into a taboo. I’ve heard other bloggers claim that – on the contrary – women who do not want to openly discuss their sex lives are made to feel like renegades and outcasts while the rest of us frolic in an online orgy of self-congratulatory masturbation.
I don’t think anyone should be made to feel like this. Sex positivity is not about all getting our tits out and smearing chocolate on each other. It’s not about wanking on buses, or making everyone tell us the intimate details of their sexual fantasies. It’s about accepting that everyone has different desires: I want to live in a world where I can openly enjoy sex, and talk about everything that I (and other people) do to my body that gives me pleasure. Other people might want to live in a world where they can enjoy sex very privately, or not do it at all, or sort of enjoy it sometimes but not shout about it from the rooftops.
Guess what? These people can all coexist happily! The reason I set up this blog is so that people like me who enjoy the kind of sex that I do can come and talk about it and we can swap stories with each other. Also, if I’m honest, because I like to boast and my mates are probably sick of me talking about this shit in the pub after four gin and tonics. However, I do not print it out and wave it in the faces of passing strangers, because not all of them will be down with it.
So, while I love talking about sex, I realise that there are many who would rather not talk about it, do it, or have it shoved in their faces. In a genuinely sex-positive world, all of us can live happily and equally no matter how much sex we want, what kind of sex we want, or whether we want it at all.
Feminism is sex-positive, but not sex-compulsory
To my mind, feminism and sex-positivity go hand in hand. However, ‘sex-positivity’ doesn’t just mean mourning the loss of NUTS magazine and insisting that Page 3 is totally fine – that’s being ‘positive’ about just one aspect of sexuality, and failing to acknowledge the huge problems with the fact that this type of sexuality dominates our discourse in a way that is often misogynist.
I think sex-positivity is about more than just shouting “YAY SEX” and fucking whoever I like. It’s about more than just what porn I do or don’t watch, or whether I buy sex toys. It’s not about whether I’ll flash my tits to get into a nightclub and call it empowering. To me, being sex-positive is about celebrating the diversity of human sexual experience. And with such a diversity, we are always bound to disagree. I just wish we could have those disagreements without having to pretend that sex is the opposite of feminism.
I appreciate there are problems to tackle, and I am happy to navigate the ethical path of my sexual desire and my feminist principles. But I will do that, because feminism and sex are not mutually exclusive. It’s a complicated relationship, but a close one, and ultimately I choose both.